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Lower Hill Development Approved, But Residents Still Have Questions

The Downtown Pittsburgh skyline on a sunny, clear summer day.
Keith Srakocic

On today’s program: Plans were approved for the construction of an office tower in the Lower Hill, but questions remain on how residents will benefit; the city has gathered 13 ambassadors to create equitable food policy and fight food apartheid and insecurity; and a look at the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Pennsylvania.

Lower Hill office tower project is approved
(0:00 — 5:01)

The boards of the Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved plans for a 26 story office tower, the first development on the 28-acre site that was the home to the former Civic Arena.

WESA’s development and transportation reporter Margaret J. Krauss says this vote means construction can happen soon, although there are still some small hurdles like raising some money for future tax revenue.

“After 15 years, after decades of disinvestment, basically everyone just wants something to happen,” says Krauss. She says while many want to move forward, they also want reassurance there will be direct benefit to those who live and work in the Hill District.

The lead developer, the Buccini/Pollin Group, proposed and signed a reinvestment package that would create $50 million in investments, but Krauss says there are two major sticking points.

“The development team hasn’t finished a community review process, and there are concerns about how well that proposed reinvestment package actually lines up with a prior contract the developers agreed to be bound by.”

Krauss says residents still want to know if there will be a commitment to job and employment opportunities after construction is complete.

Pittsburgh Food Policy Council creates Food Equity Ambassador Program
(5:03 — 11:32)

Food insecurity was with the region before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it worsened in the time since. In an effort to combat local food insecurity, the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council created a food equity ambassador program.

The program approaches food insecurity through the lens of community, working with 13 ambassadors, representing Pittsburgh’s nine city council districts.

“We really wanted a group of residents who could work alongside city government and other partners to explain sort of on the ground what's going on, what are some of the strengths that we see in our communities and what are some of those challenges?” says Dawn Plummer, executive director of the Food Policy Council.

The selection process for ambassadors prioritized those who live in areas with low food access, those who have experienced food insecurity firsthand and local leaders in their communities.

“When we're looking at questions of food equity, universal investments across the city isn't what we need. With limited resources, we really need to look at communities that need that investment the most,” says Plummer.

The hope is that ambassadors can help suggest solutions alongside policymakers after six months of learning and setting priorities.

“The idea of really embracing the solutions put forward by ambassadors, I think, is really just creating a stronger partnership with city government, and increasing public investment and awareness in the kinds of activities that already exist, and then helping us fill gaps to do things that haven't done been done before,” says Plummer.

The impact and legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Pennsylvania
(11:35 — 18:00)

President Joseph Biden announced a proposal to create a Civilian Climate Corps, inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s program developed in 1933 to employ millions of Americans in the wake of the Depression.

The impact of the original Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) continues to be seen throughout the nation and in Pennsylvania.

“Over the course of the Civilian Conservation Corps, three million men participated in the program and Pennsylvania had the second highest number of camps, second only to California,” says Leslie Przybylek, senior curator at the Heinz History Center.

Przybylek says thousands of Pennsylvanians participated along with workers who came from out of state.

“There really was an emphasis in the program on identifying projects that men could do as manual labor,” says Przybylek. “It ran the gamut from clearing forests, building trails, there was a lot of soil conservation work done, they built bridges.”

In Allegheny County, camps built facilities in North Park and South Park, and a Northwestern Pennsylvania camp did extensive work at the Pymatuning Reservoir.

“Part of the legacy at the time was that it gave a lot of people a leg up at a time when they desperately needed it,” says Przybylek. “It became, in public imagination, the symbol of a government program that worked.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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